Gregory loved Cookie Mueller. Cookie loved John Waters. John Waters loved Mink Stole.
I was in a pub called Beggars Bush in Ubud, Bali, in 1989, when the guy sitting next to me told me Cookie died. I finished my beer and tried to figure out a 2,000 percent tip. I gave up and threw a stack of Indy Rupiah on the bar. I‘d brought a paperback copy of the last volume of Remembrance… – “Time Regained “ – to read on the 20 hour flight. In his introduction, John Wood Krutch said that Proust liked to tip 2,000 percent.
Shit, the bill was small enough. The reckoning however…
I stepped out onto the dusty lane, it was late afternoon, and on the distant rising where the green terraced rice paddies seemed iridescent, there was a chute of smoke which evaporated and disappeared – pyre, cooking fire, I don’t know. Two years before the only green that mattered to me was a few bits of grass that had pushed their way up along Union Square Park (Pill Park, I dubbed it) sidewalk. Or a green tape bag with GO! stamped on, or a couple of soggy 10s tucked in a cigarette pack. I hadn’t stepped foot in the City those two years and regarded it with a 50/50 mix of prelapsarian longing and postlapsarian dread.
A Balinese woman, just out of politeness, I suppose, wished me a good evening.
Salamat malam, I replied.
You do business here in Bali?
Tidak – I shook my head no and threw a small stone to ward off the mongrel dogs. But, hey, the dogs, I’d been told, kept the bad spirits at bay, so who knows?
And Cookie? First her dog, Beauty died; bad enough right there. I‘d seen Cookie cry over a split nail. Then Vittorio, and now her…
Di mana jalan? – Where are you walking? The Balinese woman asked.
Jalan Jalan, I said: Just walking.
Two years before, summer of ‘87, I was just walking to drop off a goodie bag for The John Waters’ Baltimorean Dreamlanders’ entourage at Odeon. I had just hit 32, with no plan for hitting 33. They were having a party; I was invited, sorta, sorta. Cookie had arranged for me to make the drop. The margin was so slim, like twenty bucks or so, I felt more like I was delivering chinks. I was forced to meet Cookie’s girlfriend Sharon in the kitchen. There was an plastic bin of iced Wellfleet oysters getting cold enough to shuck, plus trays of smoked Nova, scallops and shrimp. Someone was picking up the bill. I stuffed some Nova and whole oysters in my sports coat pocket.
No seat at the table for moi.
When I got outside, after knocking off the Nova, I smashed the oysters against a fire hydrant and sucked out the flesh and juices. I was as hungry as Oliver Twist but not as hungry as I was going to be in the very, very near, future – not kicking a dog away from a souvlaki on the ground type hungry, like that upcoming night in front of the loathsome Limelight, with not even enough money for the falafel joint. But anyway that twenty bucks from the Dreamlanders was going to feed “the Chinaman” as Burroughs might have put it, once upon a time ago.
It was probably the summer before that, ’86 – I had walked into Cookie’s apartment and first met the Dreamlanders, and it was like a Baltimorean John Waters class PTA meeting: John, Mink, Divine, Sharon. It was hot, no draft, and they were having homemade lemonade and cookies. As usual I was on an errand, not invited to stay. I put my hands under the kitchen faucet and splashed some water on my face and slurped some from my cupped hands: Standing on that sloped floor above Ottomanelli’s butcher shop, I survey myself, my surroundings. Through the kitchen window, laundry strung in back yards. The din of traffic wafting from Seventh Avenue. My hate of The Caliente Cab Company on the corner of Bleecker, with the fucking fake cab though the wall. The realization I’m less a courier and a more Chinese guy on a bicycle with a plastic bag in the basket filled with beef and broccoli and shrimp lo mein.
But that had been at least a year back—
( Time seemed a lot less linear then, more cyclical; time was chunked; one chunk up, one chunk down; which made it a lot harder to keep track of; jam kerat– rubber time- the Balinese called it,)
—And I was high rolling in ‘86 compared to ‘87.
By ‘87, I was definitely done with NY, but it wasn’t quite done with me. Like Shemp, I was going to get a few more forehands to the forehead, before I would get my ass out.
Even Rockets Redglare wouldn’t return my calls. And I owed him money.
A couple days after the Odeon humiliation, I used my last seven or eight bucks to calm down, create a sense of objective detachment. Recipe: two valium, two tall boys and a slice of pizza with extra cheese from Pepes on 14th street. While the slice was heating, I ducked into the cubby sized bathroom, one that I knew almost as well as my own. COMB YOUR HAIR YOU’RE A MESS the child’s size mirror read. Under that a tacked up notice: By Order of the Health Department.
I grabbed my slice. From the street side counter I was leaning on, I spied Mink Stole practically, well not really running, more like a hop skip jump speed walking, and she literally, not figuratively, bumped into me as I stepped out of Pepe’s, giving me pizza burn on the top of my mouth, sauce stain on my corduroy sports coat, and beer swill on my pants.
Valiums, she said to me. Malanga just called. Nico is flipping out and we need to get some V’s up to 33st. and down Nico’s throat. I was perplexed. The Factory without Valium, impossible; it’s like Gristedes without wilted lettuce. Nico went crazy, Mink said, and ate all the Oberol then flushed the choral hydrate down the toilet.
Counter intuitive, I know, but by now, Irrational behavior was almost Aristotelean logic to me.
I went back around the corner with the money Mink gave me, gave the high sign to Mack and copped (at a drastically reduced semi-professional discount) 20 Blue V’s, from those lovely non-generic days with a V cut out of those lovely blue orbs, putting the extra twenty inside my corduroy jacket, a meal for the Chinaman. My mood turned on a twenty dollar bill.
This unexpected visit of long overdue Cheap Luck elevated my spirits, made me feel like one of the Magnificent Seven, if you know what I mean.
I had slogged my way out of The Slough of Despond.
Mink caught a cab; we jumped in – cabs being a luxury I was unused to, unless on some sort of rescue mission such as this; so on the way up I enjoyed the Taxi like it was a limousine, and I cranked down the window and watched the sun, descending in mid- summer glory, scaling splashing and painting the side of Mays on the north side and Kleins on the south side of 14th St.
Scanning the shuffling pill heads and scratchy methadone junkies from above not among, and feeling for a moment exalted, heroic even, not like a delivery boy and more like a gun for hire; I felt fine for that too too short ride to 33 St.
I thought I would engage in conversation but I had nothing to say so I asked her what she thought of taxis. She shrugged. This was going nowhere. I told her I never saw Taxi Driver; she said that was interesting, neither had she, and she asked why, and I said I was driving a taxi at the time (True, Atlantic Cabs, Long Island, ‘76, the year before I moved to the Celestial City, beginning a decade’s plus Pilgrim’s Progress in reverse), and didn’t want to watch a movie about driving a cab on my day off and she cracked a smile and lit a cigarette. I asked her why she didn’t and she said she didn’t like movies where things happened. I said, Que mas Mink? I mean, you know, besides too many things going on and all, you know, besides that? And she said she didn’t like movies about weirdos.
Mildly, momentarily perplexed, I cranked the window all the way down to capture the maximum rush of dirty air, lit a cigarette of my own and calmly and courageously considered my situation. Talent, no, not even a second rate Jimmy Breslin. Looks (and dresses) like an intermediate school substitute teacher. (Let’s put it this way, I once had to make a drop at the Paradise Garage and the door guy smiles sympathetically and shakes his head. Sorry honey, no self- respecting fag would dress like that.)
Taste? I ripped up a Basquiat and threw the pieces down my airshaft because he was talentless, going nowhere. Money, trust fund? – god no. In with the realm of the dissolute gods? No. I merely had access to the minor living legends who needed the things people on SSI or the Program got for free. I could move from point A to B, sometimes, Z, schlepping schmeck, as Dutch Schultz called it in his Last Words. And that’s about it. Oh yeah, I always showed up, and gave correct change.
I’ll have a dirty suntan this summer I thought, and not from chasing leather girls on roof tops. Not in the shape I was in. This was a line I made up in the cab, but shit I could never bear to call myself a poet. At best the city needed me, as the sidewalk needed the sun and Nico needed Valium and I never was a good hustler. But still…
The cabdriver had a new sports station, WFAN, on. The Mets were losing, but then again…
When he pulled to the curb, Mink shoved me a couple of fives, one of which I handed to the cabbie.
And once in the freight elevator and up to the seventh floor loft, to the FACTORY where I imagined Andy stood bleached against the wall, where my eyes would scan for the bullet holes from one of the four of Valerie’s missed shots. (I had fixated once on Valerie Solanas when I saw her at the St. Marks Bookstore, following her around to get a glimpse of what she read – turned out she was a fan of Vanity Fair.) Inside the loft, I got Nico (had gotten high with her once upstairs at the Squat Theater, so she had vague face recognition) relaxed enough, with her out stretched hands, stretched out hair, to take 15 milligrams of Valium, any more I dared not, sipped on a Miller’s tall boy until I could see that relaxing hush fall across her face as the late afternoon sun hushed the walls.
Afterwards I was kind of, more or less, ignored. I did ask about Andy but they looked at me like I was crazy, like I was asking about a ghost. This I chalked up to drug addledness on their part, as my eyes studied the walls for the four bullet holes that had knocked four times upon the door of unhappiness; then, after a while, showed myself, as was my wont, out the door. The freight elevator was fritzy, so I walked down the narrow uneven cheap marble stairs, seemingly too narrow for the famous people who walked up them – but it’s always easier going down.
I hadn’t given the change for the cab ride back to Mink, so I had a pocket full of V and beer money, on top of the $20 for the Chinaman. And walked back towards the park to see Mack once again, and then to Chrystie Street to cop some Nova Express (although the spot was pretty much around the corner from The Bunker, the schmeck, in a delicious New York semiotic convergence of Time, was named for the old NOVA EXPRESS sign stenciled on the window – the SMOKE before NOVA having faded – from when the place wholesaled smoked fish, a front for the old Schultz mob) and to head home. It had been a good day.
But I kept myself from getting ahead of myself. Heeding Frank O’hara who said: but one of these days there will be nothing left with which to venture forth. (And that day was near upon.)
But venture forth I did, also keeping in mind O’Hara’s maxim that if you want greenery you never have to leave New York City. I can’t enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, is how I felt at the time. So in a way my imminent demise was more like an exile from paradise than an escape from the inferno. Because a lot of me felt as Frank felt: It was my duty to be attentive: The scent of green blades mixed with dog shit, and heavy duty beat ass “TRIBAL” incense sold by heavy-duty beat-ass dashikied cons.
But, Life is a Carnival right? And one man in his life plays many parts. Sometimes you’re the carnie and sometimes you’re the mark and sometimes you’re the geek. So I walked with grace because I trusted the sidewalks, the gutters and the dandeloined emerging earth and the people feeling my state of grace parted for me.
(About six months later, as it happened, I was laid up in a skanky studio apartment, a winter rental off the boardwalk on Long Island with newspaper stuffed in the window sill, when a documentary came on about Warhol and I came to understand that he was dead five months before I had gone into the loft, a post Warhol Factory. And about six months after that, the next summer, poor Valerie Solanas, whose tastes besides S.C.U.M. ran to Thackery, died, and soon after her, poor poor Nico who had so sweetly wanted to smoke a bowl of the sweet Puppy Cove hash upstairs at the Squat Theater after getting high — they paving the way for Cookie? (Not to mention fucking Jean Michel, asshole, fucking Fat Rockets, beat artist.) Downtown in the ’80s right? Big party, right? Well in ’88 & ’89 a lot of bills came due. A lot of checks got cashed. Fuck it. Meursault had a point. This summer? Next summer? What’s the difference?
Let me ask a somewhat less rhetorical question. Could I have lived in The City that February of ’87 and not known that Warhol had died?
Let me answer a question with a question: Could I have stumbled onto a victory parade in October of 1986, looking to feed the Chinaman, as it were, and not have known the Mets had won the World Series?
Let me answer that question with another question. Could I have kicked that Lhasa Apso out of the way in front of the aforementioned loathsome Limelight and grabbed a souvlaki off the sidewalk?
When I got back to 2nd from my Factory stint, Gregory was intently doping the ponies who were returning to Saratoga. He had a nub of a cigarette in his mouth and the nub of a pencil in his hand. I broke out my works and settled down to a long overdue, and well deserved fix of Chrystie Street’s finest, NOVA EXPRESS. Then I told him everything, as usual, on and on, as usual. Long after other people would’ve stopped listening, Gregory listened, though never looking up from the racing form, chortling ruefully at spots, nodding at other moments, sometimes shaking his grey Mephistophelean mane, his mouth pinched in a cigarette grin. I wasn’t sure how much he was taking in until he rolled the cigarette along his lips to the corner of his mouth.
“Me and Jack were right. O’Hara, well he destroyed modern poetry. And Warhol he killed beauty.” Gregory took the cig out of his mouth for a second and pointed it straight up to the cracked ceiling like a painter might do with a brush, sticking up his chin in an almost fey pose. Then went on –
“That’s a heavy weight to lay on someone, but I’m going to lay it at that man’s feet. You can fuck things up soooo much then you get Kit Marlowed, him a great beauty, you dig him – my Kit? – a great reckoning over a little bill…”
“I think it was a great reckoning in a little room, Gregory.”
“Yeah man, that too – Point is, he got killed by Death.”
He stuck the cig back in his mouth and with just a bit of exaggerated flourish blew a little smoke ring from the corner of his mouth, let the ashes drop on his pant leg and then put out his smoke.
Four or five days later I kicked the dog and flew the coop.